When I moved to Sydney from Melbourne some 22 years ago, the local library in Chatswood was running a wonderful program to help migrants learn conversational English. I thought it would be fun to put my name down to see if I was able to help.
I was not called as they had enough volunteers in that department; however, it was a great feeling to be able to feel that I sort of contributed a bit and was able to connect with the local community.
Since then I have volunteered in the local school committee, school canteen, uniform shop etc. It was a great way to settle down in a new state, meet new families and make new friends in the school community.
I had the opportunity to experience the benefits of volunteering, especially when you are new to a community. So I would like to urge anyone who is new in the community, whether the community is where you live or a new environment such as school environment or child care etc, think about volunteering.
Here are five benefits why:
Feeling belonged and connected to the community
One of the challenges of migrants is integration and feeling belonged in a community. By getting out and helping the community is a great way to connect with the community.
For example, helping the local kindergarten or school to raise funds for new equipment, you can help by making cakes for their fund raising activities and help at the cake stall. By helping, it will give you a sense of being part of the team and feeling belonged.
This is one of the most important things for migrants as it helps to take you out of isolation, reducing the chances of feeling lonely, being left out and feeling depressed, thus making you a happier person.
Making new friends and adding social skills
By getting out and volunteering together with other families, it helps you to get to know your community better. You are also getting to meet people in your local area and making like-minded new friends.
For example, you can be invited to meet up at a friend's place for discussions and planning, and by doing so, you have the chance to expand your network and get to know more families around your area, thus settling in your new community become easier.
Feeling good by helping and contributing
Volunteering is a fantastic way of giving back to the community. It gives you a sense of purpose and feeling good about being able to help your community and making it a better place, and it gives you a sense of achievement, fulfillment and accomplishment at the same time.
Improving language skills
Some migrants have limited language skills. For example, when I first came to Australia, I could speak English, but not fluently. However, by being in social functions, I had to communicate more and learn how to string sentences together to communicate. Thus by sheer practicing on a regular basis, it helps with the fluency and the confidence to communicate.
By improving communication and social skills, you are able to communicate and express your thoughts and feelings better, build more solid relationships and make new friends. This will help with your self esteem and confidence, which will in turn benefit your career, and you will feel more settled in your new community or country.
Family Connections and bonding through shared experiences
By involving your family through volunteering, you introduce them to the wider community. So you are sharing the experience with them together. This will enhance your bonding and connections with your children.
Also you are the example your children learn from. By watching how you are helping the community, how you communicate and interact with them, your children will learn from you, and how good it feels to be able to contribute and help the community.